Newcastle deny concern over international demands on Owen

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The Newcastle United chairman, Chris Mort, maintained yesterday that the club have never tried to prevent Michael Owen playing for England.

Owen joined Newcastle from Real Madrid for £17m in August 2005 but his career on Tyneside has been blighted by injury so far and there have been suggestions the Magpies are unhappy about the demands England place on him.

But Mort said: "It is disappointing because the reality is that Newcastle United are delighted that England regard Michael so highly. It is quite right that they should because he is clearly a tremendous striker for his country as well as for Newcastle United.

"I appreciate that the pinnacle of every great player's career is not just representing their club in every way they can, but also representing their country. And I wouldn't want to hold any player back in their desire to play for their country. Michael is a prized asset to this club and we want to look after him but we appreciate that he wants to represent his country as well."

Owen has two years left to run on his lucrative contract, but the Newcastle manager, Sam Allardyce, is not anxious to rush into negotiating an extension.

Allardyce said: "I'd like to see him fit for the next 20 games on the trot or more and then enter into a new contract.

"The most important thing is that he's available for selection every week and we can control it.

"Whether that means we lose him at the end of the day or not is non-negotiable because if it happens it happens, but we want to see him fit, playing and scoring on a regular basis."

Elsewhere, Arsenal's minority shareholders will have the chance to question the board during what is expected to be a lively annual general meeting at the Emirates Stadium today.

The Gunners have found themselves subject of just as much attention for off-field matters as their footballing achievements this season, with speculation continuing that the Premier League club are next in line for a foreign takeover. However, after recently publishing impressive financial results to match performances by Arsène Wenger's table-topping side, the board have continued to maintain their stance that Arsenal is not for sale.

Today's meeting in the Woolwich Suite is, nevertheless, sure to see the issue brought up once more. It is understood that both significant stakeholders, the American Stan Kroenke and the Russian Alisher Usmanov, are likely to be represented rather than appear in person.

Indeed, Usmanov's investment company, Red and White Holdings, which now owns around 23 per cent and is the second-largest shareholder behind the director Danny Fiszman issued a statement yesterday "to reiterate its support of Arsenal Holdings plc and its position as a long-term investor".

Usmanov had been looking to build a so-called "blocking stake" of 25 per cent, but now looks to have softened his stance, as the statement added intentions "to vote in favour of all the resolutions at the upcoming AGM". There could, of course, still be the added twist of an appearance by the former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, who now fronts up RWH in a non-executive role.

Dein sold his 14.5 per cent share to Usmanov's group for £75m in August, a few months after leaving the Arsenal board following a schism over the role of Kroenke – who was then seen as a hostile investor but is now viewed as very much a long-term ally.